– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community
PHUKET: An Iranian court yesterday sentenced a U.S. citizen to death on charges that he worked as a spy for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), state-run media reported.
28-year-old Amir Mirzai Hekmati, who was born in Arizona but is of Iranian descent, was arrested in December 2011 on charges he spied on Iran for the CIA. Iranian state TV later aired a video in which Hekmati confesses to the charges, although it is unknown if he was forced to do so.
According to Iranian prosecutors, Hekmati was hired by the CIA in May 2009 to carry out espionage operations in Iran. He previously served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan where Iran claims he underwent decade-long intelligence training and had access to classified information.
“In this mission I was fooled by the CIA and although I had entered Iran with a mission to infiltrate in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s intelligence systems and to turn into a new source for the CIA, I didn’t want to hit a blow to Iran,” Hekmati said in his confession on state TV.
On Monday, branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Hekmati to death after being convicted of attempting to infiltrate Iran’s intelligence apparatus in an alleged effort to ‘implicate’ the country in sponsoring terrorism. Under Iranian law, he has 20 days to appeal.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. government is still trying to confirm the reports through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents American interests as the U.S. and Iran have no formal diplomatic relations.
“If true, we strongly condemn this verdict,” Nuland said. “Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are simply untrue. The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”
Hekmati’s family has insisted that he is not a spy and was simply visiting his grandmother.
Nuland urged the Iranian government to grant the Swiss protecting power immediate access to Hekmati. “[We also urge the Iranian government to] grant him access to legal counsel and release him without delay,” she added.
In September 2011, Iran’s Judiciary approved the release of two U.S. citizens who were earlier convicted of espionage and illegal entry. Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal had been sentenced to eight years in prison a month earlier.
Bauer and Fattal were arrested in July 2009 along with Sarah Shourd when they crossed the border in Iraq’s Kurdistan region into Iran. Iranian prosecutors charged them with entering the country illegally and having links to U.S. intelligence, a claim which the defendants and their families have repeatedly denied.
According to the detained Americans, they were hiking in Iraq when they unknowingly crossed the unmarked border into Iran where they were arrested by border guards. Iranian prosecutors rejected those claims, saying there was ‘compelling evidence’ that they were spies.
Shourd was released on September 14, 2010, after 14 months of imprisonment. She was released on a $500,000 bail on ‘medical concerns,’ although no details were provided. Bauer and Fattal were also released on a $500,000 bail although none of them will return to Iran.
PHUKET: An underground uranium site in southern Iran will be fully operational by the end of the month, Tehran’s top nuclear official told state-run media on Sunday.
Fereydoun Abbasi, who heads Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, said the nuclear plant in the port city of Bushehr is expected to reach full capacity by the end of the month. The plant was connected to Iran’s electricity grid in September with a capacity of 60 megawatts.
But Iranian officials expect the plant will be able to reach 1,000 megawatts and provide approximately 2.5 per cent of the country’s current electricity consumption. “The Bushehr plant, located along the Persian Gulf coast, will reach its full capacity of 1,000 megawatts by February 1,” Abbasi said, as quoted by the Fars news agency.
International concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear activities have been increasing for decades. While Iran has repeatedly stated that its nuclear program is for the peaceful purpose of providing energy, many countries contend it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Abbasi, while speaking during a conference in Bandar Abbas, said Tehran had shown the new generation of its homemade centrifuge machines to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a bid to demonstrate the ability of Iranian scientists.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast reiterated that the country will never give up its right of uranium enrichment. “The nuclear program of our country is totally peaceful and is a basic right of our nation,” he said.
However, the spokesman said Iran is ready to continue nuclear talks with the international community. “We are ready for the talks. We have always said that we are ready for the talks and have always pointed out that the talks should aim at cooperation between the two sides, that is, to decide to talk for cooperation instead of confrontation,” he said.
— Phuket Gazette Editors